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Love, Remember: 40 poems of loss, lament and hope by Malcolm Guite

29 March 2018

Rachel Mann considers an anthology of poetry

AT THE outset of this most welcome anthology, the poet Malcolm Guite makes a striking point about that mainstay of many funeral services, Henry Scott Holland’s “Death is Nothing at All”. He reminds us that it was originally part of a sermon preached at St Paul’s which begins, “[Death] is the supreme and irrevocable disaster.”

Guite thereby sets the tone for a book that reminds us that poetry reaches far beyond comforting platitudes. Poetry at its richest can — like Charon in the Underworld — guide us across lakes of supreme disaster, with honesty and authenticity.

Love, Remember, then, is an erudite book — its title is drawn from Ophelia’s lines in Hamlet — and it is eminently generous to the facts of grief and loss. Structured across seven parts, it wants to acknowledge that, if psychology helps us to understand how grief has identifiable elements, human living resists reductive formulae.

Thus, poems are grouped on themes such as “the threshold of death” or “the shock of loss” through to “letting go” and “the hope of resurrection”. The book’s Anglican nuance, however, lies in Guite’s capacity to reveal how grief’s moments weave and bind together.

Central to this strategy is Guite’s use of Tennyson’s extraordinary, if too often neglected, love-lament In Memoriam as a kind of leitmotif. In each section, Guite analyses part of the poem. It bonds together the book’s movements, and it is a super conceit. It enables the reader both to appreciate the depth of Tennyson’s grief for Arthur Hallam, and to know that another — a great poet — has felt our desperate passions.

Some might worry that this book offers poetry as therapy. Guite acknowledges that Love, Remember might have multiple uses. Its 40 poems — from old masters such as Herbert and Shelley as well as modern ones such as Lindop and Carol Ann Duffy — may offer consolation to the grieving or offer words for funeral and memorial services. Guite reminds us that “in the Catholic Church there was a tradition of forty days of mourning, matching a balancing the forty days of Lent.” The poems might work as guides for either a journey of grief or of Lent.

Not every poem selected quite achieves the luminous splendour of Tennyson’s. There is, however, no doubt that Guite’s skills as a reader and critic are impressive. His analysis of even some of the weaker poems is tender and revealing, and allows the reader to go deeper into the play between poetry, faith, and loss. This is a book for the many, not the few, which will reward repeated attention.

Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.

Love, Remember: 40 poems of loss, lament and hope
Malcolm Guite
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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